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Let’s face it – kids love toys, and we love giving them the toys they feel they can’t live without. But we all know where most of those toys end up – forgotten at the bottom of the toybox and eventually donated to charity or passed down to siblings or to other family members. The toys our kids keep receiving for their birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions just keep piling up – and more arrive year in, year out.
In this post I’ll be talking about:
- Practical non-gift ideas for boys and girls
- Why you should give your kids meaningful gifts that aren’t toys
- Experience gift ideas for your child
- Gifts you can give your child when you don’t want to give toys
- Best non-toy gifts for boys and girls of any age
I’ll also give you a list of about 50 practical age-appropriate non-toy gifts for both boys and girls broken down by age.
Why give non-toys gifts?
All the statistics says that we are staggering under the sheer weight of our possessions. Both kids and adults have too many toys, too many clothes, too much stuff. What if we got “unstuffed”?
Making a conscious decision to reduce stuff is a good start, and science agrees. A group of researchers working on a toy-free kindergarten found that toys limit kids’ creativity. They found that when they took toys away, children developed skills such as cooperation, organization and creativity.
Have you ever wondered why the kids with the most toys still seem to need more? Have you noticed that right after receiving their birthday or Christmas toys, kids completely ignore them and start role playing, playing dress up, building forts, or pretend cooking (with empty yoghurt pots rather than with the toys you got them for their birthday or Christmas?)
Although the feeling that we “have to give our kid something” is common and normal, your kids do not need all the toys they get. Paradoxically, the more they get, the more “needy” they become.
According to Claire Lerner, a childhood development researcher with Zero to Three, having too many toys does your kid a disservice. She says that the fewer toys your kid has, the more they play with them. Lerner says that kids who have too many toys tend to be more distracted, which prevents them from learning from those toys. Other researchers have found that buying fewer and better toys can help your child develop important life skills.
But taking away all your kids’ toys or “banning gifts” is not the answer. Kids need toys, and toys are great for helping them learn important skills. What you can do is incorporate non-gift ideas the next time you want to offer your kid a gift on her birthday or on other special occasions in order to strike a balance and stop accumulating stuff.
Why offering your kid experiences for birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions is a great alternative to giving toys
People tend to remember experiences more than they remember gifts. They remember moments spent together more than they remember material possessions. Researchers at Cornell University have found that compared to material things, experiences make people happier over time. They say that while people often adopt a “give it to me now” mind-set” when waiting for material goods, they find it more pleasurable to wait for experiences.
One of the reasons why giving experiences can be an interesting idea to replace toys is because toys get easily forgotten, but we all tend to fondly remember experiences over time. You’ll probably have a hard time trying to remember all the gifts you got for Christmas or on your birthday, but you’ll more easily remember the music class you tried, the ice-creams trips at night in your pajamas, the movie nights you shared as a family, or the weekends you spent camping.
Why investing in shared memories is a great birthday, Christmas or any special occasion gift idea
Kids need shared family experiences to thrive. Spending time with your kids has a positive impact on their social, academic and psychological wellbeing. But spending time with your kids is not about the amount of time you spend with them; it’s more about the quality of the time spent together. Spending time preparing or sharing a meal while chatting is quality time that doesn’t take much of your time. Adopting family traditions such as movie night is something your kid will remember for the rest of their life. Providing opportunities to share family experiences is a great gift your child and your entire family will appreciate.
Many benefits are associated with shared family experiences.
- They lower stress
- They strengthen your family’s bonds
- They help reinforce your kids’ sense of security
- They reduce adolescents’ risky behavior and potential drug use
- They give your family a sense of identity
- They act as a foundation for your family
Shared experiences are as important for adults as they are for kids. Even simple shared experiences such as sharing family meals have an important impact on your child’s behavior and on their psychological wellbeing. The benefits of shared family experiences have been scientifically proven. In one study, researchers found that when families maintained regular family traditions, they were better able to deal with life’s challenges and their children displayed fewer behavioral problems.
The good thing about giving experiences and shared memories as opposed to toys and other material gifts is that experiences are remembered longer, and they also take up less space in your home! But deciding to give experiences instead of toys, or choosing a mix of toys and experiences needs a plan: How much are you willing to spend on your child’s birthday gift? What type of experiences do you want to offer as a gift (individual gift, family gift)? Do you want to give experiences exclusively or do you think a mix of toys and experiences will work better for you?
Here is a list of 41 non-toy ideas to get you started planning your child’s next birthday, Christmas or any other special family occasion during which you are expected to give gifts. Right after this list, check out the list of 50 ideas of non-toy gift ideas broken down by age.
IOU for an outing: An IOU is a great gift you can use if you’re trying to replace toys with experiences. If you want to avoid surprises, you could offer something like an IOU movie ticket your kid can use to go see their favorite movie as soon as it comes out. Here are four FREE IOU coupons to download.
Tickets to the zoo: Tickets to the zoo are a great gift you can give instead of buying Christmas and birthday material presents.
Tickets to the museum: Tickets to the museum are a great alternative to Christmas or birthday toys. Many museums also offer passes that can enable your kid to visit multiple museums. If your child is into museums, you could also consider proposing to offer the tickets as a joint gift from all your family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc).
Tickets to a play: Giving tickets to a play instead of giving toys is also an option if you’re looking for a non-toy gift.
Tickets to an aquarium: Many kids (and adults!) love aquariums and tickets to visit will no doubt be a gift your kid is likely to appreciate.
Local attraction passes: Local attractions often get overlooked. Check out what your town is offering to see if there are any gift ideas your kid will appreciate. There are many great and free events that could make a great gift idea for your kid.
A photo album: I think this is the non-stuff gift I absolutely have to offer my kids next Christmas even though I’m already breaking into a sweat thinking of all the organization it entails. A photo album with all the memories of the year for each kid is a great gift idea if you don’t want to buy your kids toys anymore. You can also make a scrapbook by printing your kids’ pictures and writing captions, and adding stickers, drawings and trinkets.
Monthly craft subscription boxes: Craft subscription boxes are an easy way to help your kid learn new things, explore their environment and get away from screens. The award-winning Green Kids Craft targets children between the ages of 3 and 10: your child gets four to six science and art projects to try out every month.
Movie tickets: What kid won’t appreciate movie tickets? Knowing that they alone get to decide when and which movie to watch is a gift they are bound to love.
Tickets to an event of their choice: If your kid is crazy about a certain event, getting them tickets is a great way to make them happy and keep away from material gifts.
Ice-cream treat coupon: What is it about kids and ice-cream? Kids love it! Why not give your kid an ice-cream treat coupon they can use whenever they feel like it?
Passes to a park: If you want to request alternative birthday and Christmas gifts from your family, passes to a park can be a great idea to replace toys.
Monthly book subscription boxes: Book subscriptions are a great way to turn your kids into readers and they are also a great alternative to toys if you’re looking for interesting gifts for your kid. Many monthly book subscriptions offer two to four books per month and can cater to your child’s age and interests. Reading bug box (for newborns to 13 year olds) and the award-winning Bookroo box (up to 12 years old) are a few great subscription boxes you can check out.
Coupon book: Coupon books have been around for ages but they’re still a great way to give experiences instead of toys. The best thing about coupon books is that you can adapt them to your kid’s personality to ensure that they get the perfect birthday or Christmas gift. A coupon book is a great idea if you’re looking for non-material gifts to offer your child. Here is a free coupon book you can use if you’re planning to get your child a non-toy present.
Magazine subscriptions: It is possible to replace toys as a gift with magazine subscriptions tailored to kids’ interests. National Geographic Kids is a magazine written specifically for kids and can make a great non-toy present.
Snack subscription boxes: Good snack subscriptions aren’t just about food, they’re about teaching kids about different cultures. Snack subscription boxes are a great gift idea because they teach kids about the different foods eaten in different countries, and about different tastes and flavors. Some boxes also come with a comprehensive guidebook with information about the different snacks/countries.
Restaurant gift card: Your kid will love getting a restaurant gift card and being able to use it whenever they so wish.
Bowling tickets: Bowling tickets are a great non-stuff idea for your kid’s birthday.
Educational box subscription: Educational box subscriptions are a great non-toy gift for your kid. They are also designed to develop skills such as curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. Lovevery monthly educational kits are designed to help your child (ages 0 to 4) learn through play.
Family outing: A family outing is a nice non-material gift that will enable you to give your child a meaningful gift and will help your family to share memories. Even simple family outings like picnics can make a great gift for your kid.
Pottery classes: Pottery classes are a non-material gift idea that can teach your kid new skills. Find out if your area has initiation to pottery classes and sign them up!
Science kit: If your child is into science or if they need a little help to fall in love with science, a science kit can make a perfect birthday or Christmas gift. The Volcano Making Kit or the Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst, Robotics Stem Kit for Kids Age 8-12 are great examples of good science kits for kids.
Dance classes: Dance classes are a different gift idea that can initiate your kid to dance.
Music classes: Did you know that music has an impact on your child’s brain development. Research has also linked music classes to early childhood cognitive development. Offering music classes or an initiation to music classes is a great alternative gift idea if you are looking for non-material gifts for your child.
Cookery classes: Cookery classes are an alternative and interesting gift idea for your kid. The good news is that there are now interesting online cookery classes for kids.
Coding subscription box: If your kid is into coding, why not get them a coding subscription box for their next birthday or special occasion? Bitsbox will send your 6- to 12-year-old crazyfun coding projects every month.
Creative toolbox: If your kid likes creative stuff, a creative toolbox can be a great gift idea. For example, the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox is a robot building set and educational coding kit for kids
Lunch or dinner date: Offering a lunch or dinner date as a gift to your kid is a great way to offer experiences and to provide a wonderful opportunity for you to bond.
Movie night: Offering a movie night is a fun gift your kid will love. Better still, propose a movie night at home with all the works – your child’s best movie, popcorn, DIY drive-in seats, etc. If you’re up to it, a movie marathon is a gift your kid will find hard to resist!
Local theatre tickets: What’s showing at your local theatre? Getting your kid tickets to something they are likely to enjoy is a great gift idea for birthdays and many other special occasions. Don’t forget to find out if residents get discounts or if there are free events your kid may enjoy.
Home-cooked favorite family meal: Who said non-material gifts have to be over-priced? Offering your child their favorite meal is an exciting gift idea. Let them choose the menu you’ll cook and allow them to act like a VIP.
Painting lessons: Painting lessons are a unique gift idea and a great way to reveal the artist in your child.
Family vacation: A family vacation to a place your kid has been dying to visit is an awesome gift idea your entire family will enjoy. But remember your kid will also fondly remember simple family outings like camping.
New skill: Offering your child an opportunity to learn a new skill is a great way to shift from toys to more non-material gifts. It can also reveal hidden talents or spark his desire to learn something new.
Day out with mum or dad: A simple but great non-material gift your child is likely to enjoy is an opportunity to have mum or dad to themselves for an entire day. Give your child an IOU gift voucher offering to hang out together.
Tours: Proposing a tour is also a great alternative gift your child is likely to enjoy. It can also be an opportunity to really get to know your town or nearby towns. To make the tour more interesting, come up with ideas your kid is likely to enjoy such as a bus tour, a bike tour or even a scavenger hunt to help them learn about the different landmarks in your town.
Helicopter ride: A helicopter ride is a great non-material gift idea for children but not all companies allow infants and toddlers on rides.
Culinary experience: Travelling is not the only way to offer your child a culinary experience as a gift on their birthday or any other special occasion. Offering a gift to experience different cuisine is a great birthday idea your kid will surely love. The best part is that you don’t necessarily have to offer the experience in a restaurant. You can offer your child a “culinary experience night” during which all family members prepare different recipes from a specific country/region (thank you, Google!).
Summer camp: If there’s a summer camp your child has been dreaming of, signing them up will be a lovely non-material gift she’s not likely to forget!
A pet: A pet is a great non-toy gift idea for your child, but it’s also a lot of work. Only get your child a toy if they will be able to care for it themselves, or if you don’t mind doing the caring!
Sports lessons: If you are looking for an alternative gift idea your kid will love, try sports lessons. Giving your child tennis, Capoeira or skiing lessons is a unique gift idea they are bound to enjoy. Some instructors make the first lesson free so be sure to find out if your child can try different lessons before choosing what they like best.
Horseback riding: Horseback riding is an alternative non-stuff gift idea you can offer your child on their birthday or on any other special occasion.
Okay, I bet you’re wondering about the best non-toy gifts you can get your child depending on their age? I got your back!
50 non-toy gifts your child will love
What non-toy gifts should you give your child according to their age? Here is a list with some popular options. If they love a non-toy gift that is not on the list, please add it in the comments so that other readers can check it out.
Heads-up! I thought that coming up with a list of unique non-toy gifts for children would be easy. I was wrong! The thing is, one month old babies and nine month old babies do not necessarily need the same things, and many non-toy gift ideas for three-year-olds could also be great for eight-, nine- or even ten-year-olds. So look through all the categories and don’t just focus on the suggested age group – I’m sure you’ll find a non-toy gift idea that will totally blow your kid away! So, let’s get to it.
Best Non Toy Gift Ideas for babies
Getting non-toy and unique gift ideas for babies can be hard, especially because we all know that the gifts we give newborns are rarely just for them! Here are some of the best non-toy gifts for the toddlers in your life.
Diapers. Kids go through diapers at a rate you wouldn’t believe so giving diapers is a great non-toy gift idea any parent would appreciate. I am a big fan of diaper cakes myself and the good news is that you can make one yourself if your feel up to it or if you don’t want to buy the ready-made ones!
Pajamas. I would never have thought about offering pajamas until a friend gave some really funky ones to my third born daughter on her first birthday. This is a great non-toy idea even for younger kids because babies spend like all their time sleeping, especially those first months, so a cute pajama is likely to be very appreciated. There are some really cool designs here.
Baby boots. All kids need baby boots, and there are unisex baby boots that can make a really great gift. If boots aren’t your thing, why not get them baby sleepers instead?
Baby bath. If you’re short of a great non-toy idea to give a one-year old, why not give them something for bath time? There are some great options here or you can check out this gift guide which has great ideas for baby showers or birthdays.
Sheets. Who wouldn’t appreciate cute sheets for a baby bed? There are so many funky designs now, the hard part will be choosing which sheets to take. If you don’t feel like getting sheets as a gift, why not get something related like a baby blanket or an organic baby quilt?
A mobile. A mobile is a great non-toy gift idea for babies. Baby mobiles can help babies develop their motor skills. Be sure to get one that meets the current safety standards!
Utensils. Sip and straw cups, plates, cutlery for toddlers, etc. are all great non-gift ideas. Remember to choose child-safe utensils designed to encourage independent eating, like these ones.
Cuddly toy. Everyone likes cuddly toys – babies love them! The cuter they are, the better gifts they’ll make!
Play gym. Both babies and their parents will appreciate a play gym. What’s more, good play gyms help kids develop their motor skills and so much more! This play gym, which has been specially designed by child development experts and crafted with safe materials for babies from age zero, is guaranteed to give your child a whole year of play.
Photo album. There’s something with photos the first year. I think that’s the year I took the most photos for each of my kids. If you are looking for a special gift idea, then a baby album is a great choice!
A baby chair. There are baby chairs in all shapes and sizes so you should be able to get exactly what you need to offer a one year old!
A baby growth chart. Baby growth charts are a lovely gift idea – and they’re also cute and useful!
Swim diapers. Getting swim diapers as a gift is a unique gift idea for toddlers. Better still, get them reusable swim diapers that will last and last.
Gifts for kids that aren’t toys (ages two to three)
Okay, now that we’re done with gifts for babies, here are a few ideas of great non-toy gifts for children ages two to three. Some gift ideas in this category would be great even for older kids!
A bathrobe. Any kid will appreciate a cool bathrobe and you have so many to choose from! If you don’t think your child will love a bathrobe, how about a bath towel they can’t resist?
A Loverery play kit. Lovererey play kits are Montessori-inspired kits designed for kids of all ages. These carefully thought out kits that use eco-friendly material are delivered every three months. There are so many options to choose from, you can’t go wrong!
Funky name tags. Kids need name tags to keep track of all their stuff in the day care center or even at school. Why not get them a funky name tag they’ll love?
A potty. A potty is a great non-gift idea for children, and the good news is that there are now so many options for potty training, from potty seats to step tool ladders, and designs you wouldn’t believe! Check out some of the best sellers out there and be sure to read what others are saying.
An alarm clock. If I had known how great alarm clocks are for kids, I would have gotten all my kids alarm clocks earlier! They make children feel like they are grown up and they are guaranteed to make any parents life easier: “you can get out of bed when the alarm rings”, “when the alarm rings, it’s time for your shower”… The options are endless!
Hair accessories. Hair accessories are a great and often overlooked non-gift idea that kids would appreciate… and there are so many great accessories to choose from: head bands, hair bands, barrettes, claw clips, and so on.
Outdoor kits. Is your child into exploring and discovering stuff? Then the JVJQ Outdoor Explorer Kit is the perfect gift for any occasion. The Nature Bound Bug Catcher is another popular kit for little explorers. These kits will help your child connect with nature!
An umbrella. Who would have thought of an umbrella as great non-toy gift idea, right? Umbrellas are a great and practical gift idea for kids, and you have so many designs to choose from!
So what non-toy gift do you get a kid aged between four and six? Honestly, I think most of the gifts proposed in the two- to three-year-old category would make great gifts for this age group as well but here are a few other great gift ideas for four- to six-year-olds.
Non-toy gifts for children between ages four and six
An apron. There are so many cute aprons out there, and you can even get a personalized one if you think your child would enjoy this as a gift.
A Butterfly growing kit. This amazing educational gift is a popular gift your child is sure to love!
A Fitness tracker watch for kid. When it comes to fitness, it’s never too early to start, right? And there are great fitness tracker watches specially designed for kids.
A camera. Cameras are among the gifts my kids have appreciated most (and still use three years later)! A camera is not only a good gift, it also helps your kids change how they look at the world. My kids have spent hours looking for insects to photograph and analyze and had fun making videos of themselves “performing”. Here are a few great options to check out if you think this is a gift your child would appreciate.
A suitcase. A suitcase will make your child feel all grown up and independent! And there are such cute suitcases to choose from now!
A chemistry set. Is your child the scientific type? This National geographic chemistry set will make a perfect non-toy gift!
A piggy bank. A piggy bank is a great non-toy gift idea and it is also an easy way to start sharpening your child’s financial skills!
Moving on, here are a few non-toy gift ideas if your kid is between ages seven and nine
Non-toy gifts for seven- to nine-year-olds
Like I said earlier, many of the non-toy gifts in the previous categories would make perfect gifts for kids of all ages. But, here are a few other ideas if you still haven’t found something you think would be a perfect fit.
A watch. A watch is a great gift idea, but when is the right age to get your child one? While there is no consistent answer, getting your child a watch when they start learning to read time makes sense. The good news is that today you have child-friendly designs (such as Timex Kids Watches which come with a great replacement plan) to make it easier for kids to read time (clear dials, clear numbers, etc).
You can also get your child a spywatch which has multiple functions including GPS tracking which is good for kids’ protection. Here are just three popular spywatches for kids that you can check out:
A telescope. Your child will spend hours getting a closer look at the moon and discovering constellations if you get them a telescope as a gift.
Monthly subscription boxes. There are so many great subscription boxes today, which is great because you can choose a box depending on your child’s interests and preferences. Here are different boxes to get started.
A book to learn magic tricks. Is your child into magic tricks? There are very many magic tricks your child can learn by themselves. Resources such as Fifty Amazing Magic Tricks or The amazing treasure chest of magic has all you need to turn your child into a magician!
A microscope. A microscope is a great non-toy gift that can help sharpen your child’s observation skills.
A flashlight. Not sure what gift to get your seven- to nine-year-old child? Why not get them a flashlight? They are sure to love one that belongs to them alone!
An aquarium. An aquarium is not only a great gift, it is also great for teaching your child about accountability. Remember to make them responsible at least for feeding their fish!
And now to the last category of our non-toy gift ideas for children. What do you get for a ten- to twelve-year old when you don’t want to get toys? Here are just a few ideas of some of the things that could make great gifts for this age group.
Meaningful non-toy gifts for ten- to twelve-year-old boys and girls
A wallet. Now that your child is getting older, a wallet will make them feel all grown up. Remember to incorporate some financial skills to teach them about saving and spending.
A backpack. A funky backpack is a perfect non-gift idea for children above the age of ten.
Camping gear. If you’re a camping family, getting your child camping material just for them can be a great non-gift idea. That could be a tent, a lantern, a sleeping bag… the options are endless!
Headphones. Desperately seeking a non-toy gift idea for your child? Why not get them headphones? You just know they’ll love them! Here are a few ideas to choose from.
Posters. You already know their favorite singer or their favorite videogame. Posters would make a lovely non-toy gift they’ll appreciate.
Okay, that’s it. I hope you’ve found at least one thing your kid will totally enjoy! If you’re still having doubts (seriously?), here are 10 non-toy gifts kids of all ages will enjoy.
10 non-toy gifts for kids of all ages
- Clothes. Clothes are a great non-toy gift for all kids of all ages – and there are so many things to choose from – shoes, pants, t-shirts, dresses, swimming costumes, etc. The only thing to remember is that good quality clothing lasts longer!
- Subscription boxes. Good subscription boxes help your child develop skills such as creativity, independence and even critical-thinking skills. Lovevery has fantastic projects for every age group, and both the Bookroo box and the Reading Bug Box are great subscription boxes if you’re looking to turn your kid into a reader!
3. Custom-made towels and blankets.
4. Craft supplies
5. Board games
6. Musical instruments
7. Custom-made mugs
8. A bedside lamp or night lights
9. Gardening tools
How to effectively shift away from materialistic gift-giving
Many parents wonder how many birthday or Christmas presents their kid should get. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” response. For many families, Christmas is the only time kids get to open something new. And toys are not a bad thing. Kids enjoy and can learn so many things from playing with toys. In other words, you do not have to give “zero toys” to make gift giving more meaningful, but you can adopt a more conscious gift giving approach. An effective way to do this could be by adopting a gift-giving rule for your family. One example I bet you’ve heard about is the Scandinavian “4-Gift rule”:
- One thing your kid wants
- One thing your kid needs
- One thing your kid can wear &
- One thing your kid can read
There’s also the “5 senses Gift rule”:
- Something to hear
- Something to smell
- Something to taste
- Something to see
- Something to touch
It’s easy to adapt these rules to your family to incorporate experience gifts. For example:
- One thing your kid can smell (culinary experience)
- One thing your kid can hear (music classes)
- One thing your kid can taste (chocolate or candy)
- One thing your kid can see (a book)
- One thing your kid can touch (something to wear)
You can also adopt a minimal gift giving guide to make gifts more meaningful. For example:
- One new item
- One used/DIY item
- One experience
- One gift for the entire family
Have you tried shifting to non-material gifts with your family? I’d love to hear about the non-toy ideas your kids loved. Please let me know in the comments section below.